Expat Living: When Ugly Becomes The New “Beautiful”

April couldn’t go fast enough for us…  Bye bye, adios, sayonara, yakshi yol, asta la vista, baby!

Photo of Storm Damage: Salvaged from April's Wrath

Salvaged from April’s Wrath

All I wanted to see was the tail lights of that long grey month fading out of sight.

We have had so much happen this past month that we are emotionally spent.

But… ever in search of that silver lining, it did get me to thinking about how many storms we have weathered here that would have been much harder had I been on my own overseas still.

And, how many tools we have at our fingertips here that could be useful and potentially available to many expats in remote or developing countries.

Dealing With Mother Nature

I started this month with a post saying I had had a nasty bout with the flu… turns out that was wrong. Way wrong.

After a gazillion tests, which I would not have had access to in Baku, I was put on ulcer medication and got blood work done that came back positive for H. pylori, a bacterium which canattach to cells of the stomach, causing stomach inflammation (gastritis), and can stimulate the production of excess stomach acid.

Stress, spicy foods, type A personality. Which of these causes most stomach ulcers?

The answer: none of them.

Research shows that most ulcers — 80% of stomach ulcers and 90% of those in the duodenum, the upper end of the small intestine — develop because of infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). (courtesy WebMD)

I wanted to share this with you, not to be alarmist, but to wave a flag in case you are living or have lived in a place where water or foods could be less than pure.

Although it is not known how H. pylori infection is spread, scientists believe it may be contracted through food and water.

How many expats could have contracted this?

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 20% of people under 40 years old and half of adults over 60 years old in the U.S. are infected, with higher rates in developing countries.

Although I was careful, you never know how vegetables are washed and, yes, I did sometimes eat tomatoes that I didn’t peel (the standard health advisory says to eat only fruits and veg that can be peeled).

You think you’ve acclimated and it’s easy to let your guard down. It’s easy to get complacent over time.

If you’re having frequent heartburn, or think you may have an ulcer, your doctor may ask for an endoscopy to verify and scope the damage.

You may also want to remind your doctor of places you have lived as an expat and/or consider asking for the simple blood test, a Comprehensive Metabolic Panel, that shows antibodies indicating exposure to H. pylori, to give your doctor a more thorough picture of your internal health.

Just a word of caution from my own Lesson Learned… ’nuff said.

Mother Nature Is In A Bad Mood

Talk about foul moods… If you’ve followed the storms along the U.S. eastern seaboard in April, you know that Mother Nature has been particularly grumpy of late. Tornadoes, flooding, roads washed out, bridges collapsed- a litany of trials and tribulations. Mother Nature must have been jilted by Father Time on a date and we’re getting the wrath of her bad mood!

Yesterday with high tide the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers surged over their banks after three days of heavy downpours- 6 inches yesterday alone in many places near here. Once the ground gets saturated, and the storm drains are filled to capacity, water has no place else to go, so it seeps in anywhere it can, which for us means the basement. (It’s flooded three times just since I have known Joe- and he’s getting fed up with this.)

I kept thinking of Alice Keys as she wrote about her family’s disaster in France back in January. Watching the oozing brown mud creep ever closer to their temporary home, having to shovel everything clean, gauging the loss and having the insurance reimburse the owners who lost nothing and did none of the clean-up. I prayed this wouldn’t be that.

I got to sleep around 4:30 this morning, feeling grateful once again that the “ugly” tools that are stashed in the emergency room saved us.

The things I have been thankful for are the solid communications systems, telephone redundancies (land lines and cell phone systems overlap), emergency medical teams nearby, power tools for pumping water out, and so on.

Here are a couple of things I may never do without again, and little things that may bring your own peace of mind:

1. WatchDog Water Alarm – Simple, Battery Operated… And Highly Effective!

Simple Battery Operated Flooding Alarm

Simple Battery Operated Water (Flooding) Alarm

This little gem saved us thousands of dollars in damages yet cost less than $10. Our engineer neighbor turned us on to this little gadget.

We purchased this one from our local DIY store, “Home Depot” (HomeDepot.com) – the link here contains product numbers to order online if can’t find it locally.

Using a 9-volt battery (the flat/rectangular ones), this little box, slightly bigger than your hand, uses low technology to alert you when water is present. Two contact points on the bottom connect when water completes the circuit.

This circuit causes a piecing siren to sound, alerting you that water is where it shouldn’t be- we can hear ours clearly, even when we’re upstairs.

Yesterday I heard the siren near the basement exit door. I had set the little box on the tile floor several feet into the hallway last year and left it sit.

Yesterday, it did exactly what it was supposed to- it screeched as soon as water reached the contacts. Flood water had risen with the tides and was surging up from the water table underground, down from the skies, and away from the rivers on any path it could take.

The path of least resistance was in through the door sill, up through the concrete basement floor and under the walls.

I quickly called Joe to come help, threw down some old beach towels stored in the laundry room nearby and then ran to the guest room en suite and found it already flooded. (I ordered another alarm for that room now!) Water was streaming in from under the bedroom’s block walls and weeping in from the ground level bathroom window.

The second item is the “ugly” duckling of the tool room, the workhorse that wins like a thoroughbred every time. It’s not one of the cool power tools; it just sits there until a crisis hits.

I’m talking about the wet/dry shop vac. Oh, the versatility of this little machine. It’s one tough sucker! (Pun intended…)

Expat Tools to Have- Photo of The Ugly Shop Vac: Beauty In The Eye Of The Beholder...  In A Flood This Is Beautiful!

The Ugly Shop Vac: Beauty In The Eye Of The Beholder… In A Flood This Is Beautiful!

I now wish we had two of these also! I barricaded rooms with beach towels not yet in use- we haven’t had any warm weather yet this year, and the way it’s going we may just skip to autumn instead!

I got out the shop vac and started sucking water up while Joe went to do the same barricading tactic in the bedroom to keep that water from flowing out into the living room.

Once he got his “dams” in place, he came to takeover the vacuuming of water while I wrang the towels out.

When my hands hurt from so much twisting of the heavy towels, I got smart and dropped them in the washer and set it to spin… what an invention! As long as we had power, we had a system. Back and forth, back and forth.

I put the almost-dry towels down and made more dams. Joe took the shop vac to the deep sink in the laundry room, hefted 10 gallons of water over the side and prayed that the drain could handle more water load, then off to the bathroom and bedroom to get ahead of the tide there.

Suck, dump, wring, mop.. rinse and repeat… all night long. We finally got to bed about 4:30 this morning, sleeping with one eye open and both ears attuned to the scream of the little watchdog box.

What was so ironic about all this is that just that morning we had had an electrician come out and give us a price on installing a dedicated switch for our portable generator, so we can keep our refrigerators running along with lights for us and our neighbors- the same engineer neighbor who clued us in to the Watchdog alarm box.  (Good neighbors are hard to find, and these two are real treasures.)

We had no sooner settled on the date for wiring it all up than I said something about not having to haul it out the next time it floods downstairs… talk about prescient! From my lips to Mother Nature’s ear, as they say.

We didn’t lose power so the generator stayed put, but that beat up old shop vac was worth it’s weight (filled to the brim with water weight!) in gold. We fought that tide for about 8 hours solid, losing only doors and baseboards so far- we have fans drying out the floors and maybe walls. We’ll have to see if the solid wood paneling (this old house was built in that age, after all) dries out without mold and if the walls are structurally intact, but so far it looks ok.

We dodged a bullet on this one because of the early warning, and some powerful connections- shop vac connections, that is.

I hope that our lessons and tools might give you something to ponder as we head into hurricane season.

If not these tools, at least think about your emergency plans- what will you do if…?  When your family and your belongings are out of harms way, that’s when the “ugly” will truly look beautiful to you!

I wish you safe and happy spring, wherever you may be on this crazy weather ball we call earth!



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